Last Wednesday a fiery and passionate race row took place on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek radio broadcast presented by Libby Purves. Joan Rivers became furiously enraged when Darcus Howe announced that the term “black” offended her; Rivers let loose, frenziedly exclaiming, “How dare you call me a racist! How dare you!”
In less dramatic circumstances, my housemate explained to us in a car journey this morning that she found a particular lecture problematic. Not because the content was uninteresting but because she found it difficult to understand the deeply-accented words of her world-renowned Spanish lecturer. As she elucidated her reasoning she profusely and repeatedly said, “I don’t want to sound racist but?” My level-headed friend was afraid to express her feelings and thoughts about communication difficulties in lecture theatres for fear of being branded a racist.
We live in a world where we are increasingly told that racism is evil, and that we should continue to fight the causes of and stamp out racism within our society. Each of us is handed a civil responsibility to prevent racially-motivated oppression at all costs. Yet as this responsibility is increasingly forced upon us, we are finding it ever more difficult to speak our minds. We keep our thoughts to ourselves, for heaven forbid we should say something politically incorrect. Describing someone as ‘black’ has become a political minefield. When pointing out a friend to another we pause to consider our description; should he be identified as Black, African, African-Caribbean, African-American? Who are we to make assumptions about his origins?
This kind of anxiety is all too common in our politically-paranoid society, and is often counter-productive. How can we ever escape racism if we fear the repercussions of calling a black person black?
The situation is not helped by overbearing black anti-racism establishments, which report every potentially racial misdemeanour and specialise in exactly the kind of antagonism that fuels such insecurities. Publications such as weekly newspaper The Voice, billed as ‘Britain’s Best Black Newspaper’ provide an outlet for black communities to express their concerns. Yet in a world of globalisation where cultures have become intertwined, and a society which continually strives to prevent its own segregation, the concept of publications aimed at a singular race appear entirely hypocritical, and fundamentally at odds with such social aspirations. Communities facing racial oppression should have a public outlet to voice their concerns, yet is a newspaper, read solely by a black ‘partition’, the best medium for this? Imagine the outrage if a service or publication were aimed exclusively at white people. “White News” would be a national scandal, assuredly denounced by the government as racial slur.
It is my belief that different cultural backgrounds provide for multivariate skills and talents. Africans are different to Indians in the same way that East Asians are different to Western Europeans. It is entirely possible that these races of people have disproportionate abilities in an assortment of activities. To ignore such fundamental differences between people is sheer ignorance, for we are each individuals and we are all very different. To use these differences against each other is real racism. Contrary to the common misconception; the practice of racism lies not in acknowledging these differences, but in using them in a demeaning and inhumane manner. To announce that somebody is black is not insulting and it is not racist. Similarly, finding an accented Spaniard’s English difficult to interpret is also understandable.
Should you now discover that the author of this piece is indeed black, consider how it would effect your opinion of it. It is the white fear of and the black obsession with the recognition of difference that will forever allow racism to haunt us, even when those who are truly racist are long gone. As Joan Rivers argued, “It is not about black or white, it is about people.”